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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | Oct. 11, 2007

Jewish community celebrates Sukkoth

By By Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Pelletier Capital Flyer Staff Writer

As the noonday sun rose to its apex over the spire of Chapel One, Rabbi (Capt.) Andrew J. Cohen was placing the reed mat roof of the traditional tabernacle on the front lawn of the building. "Sukkoth literally means 'booth' in ancient Hebrew," the Rabbi explained. "Leviticus 23:42 teaches us to build and dwell in a temporary booth with a foliage roof not made to lie on. It is to remind the children of God about their journey out of Egypt and the temporary dwelling they used in Israel during their first 12 years there." Sukkoth, a major religious holiday on the Jewish calendar, also is a celebration of fall harvest. "It is the time of our rejoicing," said Chaplain Cohen. "It is a seven day festival placed after Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkoth celebrates the idea that we begin the year anew. It is a chance to refine ourselves, our nation, and our civilization." Beginning with the shaking in four directions of four elements - a lulav or palm branch; an etroy or citron (in this case, a lemon); a hadas or myrtle branch; and an aravel or willow - shows two concepts: taste and scent. In turn, taste symbolizes the Torah or wisdom. Scent symbolizes observance of the commandments or good deeds. Like most religious observances of long tradition, its basic concepts hold even further allegorical meaning. "These four elements also symbolize different types of people - all who are needed for God's plan," said Chaplain Cohen. "It is the ultimate teamwork holiday," continued Cohen, "because it shows that we are all needed. It is a real lesson for all of us in the service of our country. Every component is truly vital to the mission." Rabbi Cohen knows this fact first hand. He recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan where he saw Soldiers and Airmen working together to successfully complete their missions. "I was there to celebrate the high holy days for our Jewish personnel stationed there, but I saw so much more. Everyone pulled together to make things happen. It was a great thing for me as an Air Force officer and chaplain to see," he noted. Wing Chaplain, Lt. Col. Paul Sherouse, who also attended the celebration, expressed the need for Andrews to have another chaplain with combat area experience. "It is extremely helpful, especially for our Jewish community," adding, "We are one of the few countries in the world that values the spirit and the act of freedom of religion and conscience. When our service people face life and death on a daily basis over there, to have a spiritual advisor present to bring comfort is a tremendous benefit to personal well-being. Our nation and our government have always recognized the value of a spiritual life - a life this side of eternity." Dr. (Maj.) Karen Darcy, an ophthalmologist at Malcolm Grow Medical Center who participated in the day's blessing, agreed. "It is great to see a Jewish chaplain here for such an important holiday to us," she said enthusiastically. "This celebration - he's all over it!" At the end of the ceremony, ice cream was served in the Sukkoth. "We are called to live in the booth during this time," said Rabbi Cohen. "We try to make the Sukkoth comfortable - with nice furniture, TV, meals - all the trappings of modern life. As you reside in the Sukkoth, it should be awe inspiring. In such a flimsy dwelling, it is important to rely on the grace of the Almighty. A point driven home on this holiday by the dangers we face in our generation."